A statistical inference approach to reconstruct intercellular interactions in cell migration experiments

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Science Advances  11 Mar 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 11, eaay2103
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay2103


Migration of cells can be characterized by two prototypical types of motion: individual and collective migration. We propose a statistical inference approach designed to detect the presence of cell-cell interactions that give rise to collective behaviors in cell motility experiments. This inference method has been first successfully tested on synthetic motional data and then applied to two experiments. In the first experiment, cells migrate in a wound-healing model: When applied to this experiment, the inference method predicts the existence of cell-cell interactions, correctly mirroring the strong intercellular contacts that are present in the experiment. In the second experiment, dendritic cells migrate in a chemokine gradient. Our inference analysis does not provide evidence for interactions, indicating that cells migrate by sensing independently the chemokine source. According to this prediction, we speculate that mature dendritic cells disregard intercellular signals that could otherwise delay their arrival to lymph vessels.

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